Situated just off the coast of Lombok in Indonesia, the Gilis are a hugely popular island destination for those visiting Indonesia. While there are several Gili Islands (including Gili Asahan and Gili Gede, south of Lombok) we usually refer to three main islands when talking about the Gilis: Gili Air, Gili Meno, and Gili Trawangan.)
Though they are not as tranquil and cheap as they used to be, if you’re looking for a quiet alternative to Bali — with even better beaches and seafood — head to the Gilis. They offer incredible diving, stunning beaches, and plenty of opportunities for rest and relaxation.
This guide to the Gilis can help you plan your visit there.
Table of Contents
Top 5 Things to See and Do in the Gili Islands
1. Lounge on the beaches
2. Go scuba diving
3. Learn to surf
4. Visit the sea turtles
5. Bike the islands
Other Things to See and Do in the Gili Islands
1. Go snorkeling
There’s tons of places to snorkel around the islands. You can take a private boat if you are with a large enough group, rent snorkeling gear, or do an organized boat trip. A 4-hour snorkeling tour costs around 100,000 IDR ($6.75 USD) per person, while taking a private boat for half a day will cost around 250,000 IDR ($17 USD) per person. Renting the gear is quite cheap, usually costing just 50,000 IDR ($3.40 USD).
2. Party on Trawangan
Out of all the islands, Gili Trawangan is the party island (Gili Meno is the quietest). Party nights are regular and are rotated between the bars, which usually stay open until 4am. The famous Full Moon parties are held on the beach on the southern part of Trawangan with a DJ playing until sunrise.
3. Try some water sports
There are tons of water sports to enjoy on the islands, such as parasailing, water-skiing, and wakeboarding (which all cost between 600,000-900,000 IDR ($40-60 USD). For something more relaxed, you can rent a paddleboard for 100,000 IDR ($ 6.75 USD).
4. Go kayaking
On the northern side of Trawangan, you can rent kayaks or take a guided tour of the island. On your trip, you’ll likely encounter rays, turtles, and other wildlife. Karma Kayaks is a reputable place to rent them from. A guided day trip will cost around 300,000 IDR ($20 USD) per person.
6. Watch the sunset
Watching the sunset in Gili Trawangan is an unmissable experience. To enjoy the Gili T sunset, head to the southwest of Gili Trawangan, around the Sunset Paradise Bar or the Exile Gili Trawangan. Since it’s a popular spot to watch the sunset, many people will be there so get there early to find a good spot!
7. Eat at the night market
The Gili T night market opens every day at 6pm and is in front of the main pier. You’ll find stalls selling meat skewers, rice, vegetables, seafood, noodles, tofu, sate, grilled corn on the cob and much more. You can get a huge plate with meat skewers, rice, vegetables, and a dessert for as low as 30,000 IDR ($2 USD).
8. Enjoy live reggae music at Sama Sama
The Sama Sama Reggae Bar offers live reggae music every night from 7pm. The vibe is relaxed, and dozens of budget travelers head there to chill out, get something to eat, chat with other travelers, and have a beer. (“Sama Sama” means “you’re welcome” in Indonesian.)
9. Attend an Indonesian cooking class
Attending an Indonesian cooking class is a fun way to learn something new during your time on the Gili Islands. The cooking classes will teach you how to make classic Indonesian meals like Nasi Goreng (a fried rice dish) and Mie Goreng (a spicy noodle dish). They cost around 300,000 IDR ($20 USD) per class.
11. Go fishing
Spending a full day fishing is a relaxed way to enjoy the scenery while also catching your dinner. The locals teach you how to use worms as bait for luring fishes and, if you’re lucky, you’ll catch your dinner. Your guide can show you how to prepare your catch at the end of the trip. Expect to pay 1,200,000 IDR ($80 USD) for two people.
12. Attend a yoga class
There are daily yoga classes on all three islands (especially Gili Meno). It’s possible to attend a yoga class by yourself with a teacher or with a group class. A one-hour yoga class costs around 120,000 IDR ($8 USD). For an in-depth yoga experience, book a yoga retreat. Kenza is one of the most popular yoga retreats, with four-day passes starting from 5,799,000 IDR ($400 USD).
The Gili Islands Travel Costs
Hostel prices – A bed in a dorm room with 3-6 beds will cost at least 75,000 IDR ($5 USD) per night (though double that is more common). A private room will cost around 250,000 IDR ($17 USD). Most hostels have Wi-Fi, hot water for showers, and AC — but not all do so be sure to check before you book.
Hotel prices – For a double room with a private bathroom, air-conditioning, Wi-Fi, and free breakfast, expect to pay 300,000 IDR ($20 USD) per night.
Airbnb is available throughout the islands, with shared accommodation starting around 200,000 IDR ($13.50 USD) per night. For an entire home or apartment, expect to pay at least 450,000 IDR ($30 USD) per night, although prices can be as high as 2,000,000 IDR ($135 USD).
Food – Most meals cost between 30,000-75,000 IDR ($2-5 USD). This includes local favorites like Nasi Goreng (stir fried rice with chicken, egg, and vegetables) and Mie Goreng (spicy fried noodle dish with garlic, onion, meat, egg, and vegetables). For the cheapest food, shop at the local markets like the night market mentioned above.
Meals at mid-range restaurants cost around 75,000 IDR ($5 USD). A seafood dinner costs around 135,000 IDR ($9 USD, without drinks). A beer will cost around 30,000 IDR ($2 USD).
In mid-range restaurants, you can often find Western food (pastas, pizzas, salad, etc.) but it’s usually not great. Avoid it and save your money.
If you eat at any more luxurious hotels or restaurants, keep your eyes open for hidden taxes. They are usually between 5-25% and are not explicitly mentioned.
A week’s worth of groceries will cost between 275,000-400,000 IDR ($18.50-27 USD) for things like veggies, fruit, bread, and other staples.
The Gili Islands Suggested Budgets
If you’re backpacking the Gili Islands, my suggested budget is 420,411 IDR ($30 USD) per day. This is assuming you’re staying in a hostel dorm, eating cheap meals, doing one activity like snorkeling, and getting around by foot or bicycle.
On a mid-range budget of about 1,014,787 IDR ($70 USD) per day, you can stay in a budget hotel, eat out all your meals, drink a lot more, and do a few activities each day (like kayaking or diving).
On a luxury budget of about 4,131,633 IDR ($285 USD) per day, you can stay in a luxury hotel, get any food you want, and enjoy all the attractions the islands have to offer, including private tours and diving classes/excursions.
The Gili Islands Travel Guide: Money Saving Tips
The Gili Islands are a lot cheaper than other parts of Indonesia. If you’re looking to save money while traveling in the Gili Islands, here are some tips and tricks that will help you lower your costs:
- Rent a bike – Rent a bike for as little as 40,000 IDR ($2.70 USD) per day. It’s is a great way to get around.
- Eat at street stalls – There’s a wealth of stalls selling delicious food for around 13,000-21,000 IDR ($0.90-1.50 USD). Eat here instead of the more expensive western restaurants and really get a sense for the local culture.
- Bargain hard – Nothing is ever at face value in Indonesia. Bargain with sellers as most of the time the price they’ve quoted will not be the price you’ll pay if you haggle!
- Bring a filtered water bottle – Indonesia has a waste problem, and much of it gets burned. You’ll see (and smell) it during your visit. Bring a reusable water bottle with a filter to save money — and the environment. I like Lifestraw and Grayl.
Where To Stay in the Gili Islands
Looking for places to stay? Here are some of my favorite hostels in the Gili Islands:
- M Box (Gili Trawangan)
- My Mate’s Place (Gili Trawangan)
- The Rabbit Tree Hostel (Gili Meno)
- Begadang (Gili Air)
How to Get Around the Gili Islands
On foot – The Gili Islands are quite small and you can easily get around by foot. In fact, it only takes about two hours to walk around each island.
Bicycle – Like walking, cycling is an easy way to get around each island. Bike rentals start at 40,000 IDR ($2.70 USD) per day.
Horse carts – You’ll notice there are numerous horse carts in the islands but I suggest you don’t ride the horses as they’re treated poorly.
Public boats – To get from one island to the next, you need to get on a public boat. The boat leaves Gili Trawangan twice per day, at 9:30am and 4pm. It first stops at Gili Meno, then Gili Air, before heading back to Gili Trawangan. The one-way ride is about 50,000 IDR ($3.40 USD). It’s also possible to charter a private boat, which will cost 200,000 IDR ($13.50 USD) one-way.
For the ferry back to Bali or Lombok, you’ll have to use your negotiation skills. Some people pay 250,000 IDR ($17 USD), others 350,000 IDR ($24 USD). When paying, the seller is going to ask where you want to go: either Lombok, Kuta, Ubud or the Bali airport. If you arrive to the Gili Islands from Bali, it’s possible to pay a return trip. It’s an open return ticket, meaning you can go back to Bali from the Gili Islands when you want to. Again, you’ll have to use your negotiation skills. Some people pay 450,000 IDR ($30 USD), others pay 600,000 IDR ($41 USD).
When to Go to the Gili Islands
The peak seasons are between July-August and then December-January. This is when the Gili Islands experience a huge influx of visitors. Prices can increase significantly during this time and you won’t get to enjoy crowd-free beaches or venues. If you’re visiting during this time, book your accommodation in advance.
For fewer crowds, visit between September-November. It won’t rain much since it’s the shoulder season (dry season lasts from May-October, while monsoon season starts in November until April). During the dry season, temperatures range from 22- 34°C (71-93°F).
How to Stay Safe in the Gili Islands
The Gili Islands are a relatively safe place to visit. You won’t face constant scams or pick-pocketing.
However, you’ll find a lot of drugs on the islands, particularly on Gili Trawangan. Keep in mind Indonesia is a very strict country when it comes to selling, possessing, and consuming drugs. I don’t recommend doing them because if you get caught you’re going to end up in a jail.
Doing water sports is fun and relaxing, but at times there are strong currents between the islands — especially in the northeast. Don’t underestimate their power. If you’re not a great swimmer, avoid snorkeling alone, check all your gear to make sure it’s in good condition, and ask about the currents before you get in the water.
Also, keep an eye open. The water is busy and there are always boats coming and going.
The most important piece of advice I can offer is to purchase good travel insurance. Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. You can use the widget below to find the policy right for you:
Gili Islands Travel Guide: The Best Booking Resources
These are my favorite companies to use when I travel to the Gili Islands. They are included here because they consistently find deals, offer world-class customer service and great value, and overall, are better than their competitors. They are the ones I use the most and are always the starting points in my search for travel deals.
- Momondo – This is my favorite flight search engine because they search such a wide variety of sites and airlines. I never book a flight without checking here first.
- Skyscanner – Skyscanner is another great flight search engline which searches a lot of different airlines, including many of the budget carriers that larger sites miss. While I always start with Momondo, I use this site too as a way to compare prices.
- Airbnb – Airbnb is a great accommodation alternative for connecting with homeowners who rent out their homes or apartments. The big cities have tons of listings! (If you’re new to Airbnb, get $35 off your first stay!)
- Hostelworld – This is the best hostel accommodation site out there, with the largest inventory, best search interface, and widest availability.
- Agoda – Other than Hostelworld an Airbnb, Agoda is the best hotel accommodation site for Asia as it has the largest inventory and offers the best rates. If you want a guesthouse or hotel, book it via this website!
- Intrepid Travel – If you want to do a group tour around Indonesia, go with Intrepid Travel. They offer good small group tours that use local operators and leave a small environmental footprint. If you go on a tour with anyone, go with them. And, as a reader of this site, you’ll get exclusive discounts when you click the link!
- Grassroots Volunteering – For volunteering, Grassroots Volunteering compiles a list of good local volunteer organizations that keep the money within the community.
- EatWith – This website allows you to eat home cooked meal with locals. Locals post listings for dinner parties and specialty meals that you can sign up for. There is a fee (everyone sets their own price) but this is a great way to do something different, pick a local’s brain, and make a new friend.
- World Nomads – I buy all my travel insurance from World Nomads. They have great customer service, competitive prices, and in-depth coverage. I’ve been using them since I started traveling in 2003. Don’t leave home without it!
Gili Islands Gear and Packing Guide
If you’re heading to the Gili Islands, here are my suggestions for the best travel backpack and tips on what to pack.
The Best Backpack for the Gili Islands
Straps: Thick and cushy with compression technology that pulls the pack’s load up and inwards so it doesn’t feel as heavy.
Features: Removable top lid, large pocket at the front, hydration compatible, contoured hip belt
If you want something different, refer to my article on how to choose the best travel backpack for other backpack suggestions and tips on how to pick the perfect pack for you!
What to Pack for the Gili Islands
- 1 pair of jeans (heavy and not easily dried, but I like them; a good alternative is khaki pants)
- 1 pair of shorts
- 1 bathing suit
- 5 T-shirts
- 1 long-sleeved T-shirt
- 1 pair of flip-flops
- 1 pair of sneakers
- 6 pairs of socks (I always end up losing half)
- 5 pairs of boxer shorts (I’m not a briefs guy!)
- 1 toothbrush
- 1 tube of toothpaste
- 1 razor
- 1 package of dental floss
- 1 small bottle of shampoo
- 1 small bottle of shower gel
- 1 towel
Small Medical Kit (safety is important!!!)
- Hydrocortisone cream
- Antibacterial cream
- Hand sanitizer (germs = sick = bad holiday)
- A key or combination lock (safety first)
- Zip-lock bags (keeps things from leaking or exploding)
- Plastic bags (great for laundry)
- Universal charger/adaptor (this applies to everyone)
- LifeStraw (A water bottle with a purifier)
Female Travel Packing List
I’m not a woman so I don’t know what a woman wears, but Kristin Addis, our solo female travel guru, wrote this list as an addition to the basics above:
- 1 swimsuit
- 1 sarong
- 1 pair of stretchy jeans (they wash and dry easily)
- 1 pair of leggings (if it’s cold, they can go under your jeans, otherwise with a dress or shirt)
- 2-3 long-sleeve tops
- 2-3 T-shirts
- 3-4 spaghetti tops
- 1 light cardigan
- 1 dry shampoo spray & talc powder (keeps long hair grease free in between washes)
- 1 hairbrush
- Makeup you use
- Hair bands & hair clips
- Feminine hygiene products (you can opt to buy there too, but I prefer not to count on it, and most people have their preferred products)
For more on packing, check out these posts:
Gili Islands Travel Guide: Suggested Reading
The Backpacker, by John Harris
I picked up this book at a second-hand shop in Vietnam years ago, and it intrigued me as I was backpacking around Southeast Asia. Amazon suggested it to me recently, so I picked it up again for another read and found it just as enthralling! John travels to India, where he meets Rick, who then persuades him to go to the Thai island of Ko Phangan, where John, Rick, and their new friend Dave pose as millionaire aristocrats. after getting on the wrong side of the Thai mafia, they leave for adrenaline-fueled journeys to Singapore, Indonesia, Australia, and Hong Kong. I’ve always wondered if this was a true story since so much of it seems far-fetched, but, even if it’s all fake, it’s an entertaining read about life as a backpacker. Light, easy, and fun, it will get you excited for the road.
A House in Bali, by Colin McPhee
This book was published in 1947, long before Bali became the tourist hotspot it is today. The story focuses on composer Colin McPhee who came across some rare gramophone recordings of a type of Balinese metallic music known as gamelan. From that moment, McPhee dreamt of going to Indonesia so see where the music originated, and he eventually ended up spending most of the 30s in Bali. This is a collection of his writings from that time when Bali was untouched and isolated from Western culture.
The Rainbow Troops, by Andrea Hirata
When this book came out in Indonesia in 2005, it was an immediate sensation, selling over five million copies. It’s a near autobiographical account of author Andrea Hirata’s life. Ikal is a student at the poorest village school on the island of Belitong. The school is at risk of closing but the students are hopeful, and thanks to some amazing teachers, Ikal’s education becomes an inspirational one. The characters throughout this book are really wonderful, and it offers a lot of insight into the customs of the largest Muslim society in the world.
Eat Pray Love, by Elizabeth Gilbert
The travel book that shot around the world. This book was a phenomenon and inspired millions of women to travel the world. I feel as if everyone has already read this book. While I don’t like the self-indulgence of the book (notice how all the country’s she visits start with the letter I), the book is well written and a really inspirational story. Sometimes that’s all you really need in a good travel book.
Stranger in the Forest, by Eric Hansen
Back in 1982, Eric Hansen set out on a seven-month journey through Borneo’s rivers and jungles. Although Hansen had already spent a great deal researching the area in advance, the experiences he has while here are something that nobody could possibly predict. From encounters with the Penan nomadic hunters to being mistaken for an evil spirit in a village, Hansen’s expedition is something you have to read to believe.
My Must Have Guides for Traveling to the Gili Islands
This book shows you how to easily collect and redeem travel points so you can get free airfare and accommodation.
Kristin Addis writes our solo female travel column and her detailed guide gives specific advice and tips for women travelers.
This book features interviews with dozens of teachers and detailed information on how to land your dream job and make money overseas.
My best-selling book will teach how to master the art of travel so that you’ll save money and have a more local, richer travel experience.
Gili Islands Travel Guide: Related Articles
Want more info? Check out all the articles I’ve written on Indonesia and the Gili Islands travel and continue planning your trip:
Photo credits: 2 – Aleksandr Zykov